July 12, 2021
By Randee Ochinero
In a perfect world, teens would be able to go to sleep at 11:00 pm and wake up ten hours later, ready to go about their day. But that isn’t the way the world works. The vast majority of teens are sleep deprived as they try to juggle academics, extracurricular activities, social lives, and downtime.
There are things that may be outside your control for your athletes, like school start times or the amount of homework assigned. Trying to be well-rounded student-athletes and fit a multitude of extracurricular activities into their days can also cause overscheduling and lead to interruptions in sleep. A mixture of biology and external factors make it hard for teens to get the sleep they need and worse can lead to problems bigger than just being a little tired the next day. Regular sleep deprivation has some pretty serious side effects, but with a little information and minor changes, this can be fixed
Lack of sleep has been associated with a variety of problems, physically, mentally, emotional, and even behavioral. We know sleep is necessary for the body to repair itself and studies have shown an athlete who sleeps an average of six hours a night has four times as many injuries compared to an athlete who is averaging nine hours of sleep per night.
THAT IS HUGE!
Those injuries could make or break not one, but multiple seasons.
Decreased sleep also leads to delayed reaction times and a general decline in performance. For teens (like adults), a continual lack of sleep can make our brains feel cloudy or hazy. Missing out on those hours of sleep can also lead to a lack of impulse control, struggle with self-regulation, and holy mood swings. Irritability, inability to sit still or not fidget and aggression are all typical signs someone isn’t sleeping enough. Yes, some of that notorious teenage attitude can be from lack of sleep.
Contributing Internal and External Factors
For many, teenagers just seem to become night owls and stay up later and later as they get older. During puberty, the hormone melatonin, which is responsible for our biological clock, also goes through changes. A delayed release of melatonin leads to the night owl effect in teens, causing them to not even feel tired until 11:00 pm or later.
Remember how I said in the perfect world, they could go to sleep at 11 and wake up 10 hours later ready to go? Unfortunately with the external factors on student-athletes, this is nearly impossible. Most of us can’t control what time school starts each day, so that cuts into their sleep. In addition, society often places emphasis on teenage girls spending longer getting ready for school and putting additional care into their appearance each day. Then you add in early morning practices or weightlifting, and you’ve eliminated several hours of vital sleep time each morning.
Mornings are basically shot, so what about the evenings? We all know how those go right? Sometimes athletes aren’t getting out of practices until 8 or 9 pm. Maybe they’re in multiple sports or activities and are overscheduled before they even have a chance to do their homework or just be kids. Hopefully, they had an opportunity to eat dinner and get homework done before then, but if not they’re now eating later and on their computers and phones late into the night. And those screens are emitting blue light – which actually blocks the production of melatonin, making it even harder for them to sleep!
Practical & Attainable Changes
So how can we help teens sleep better? They’re struggling with all these factors they can’t control or don’t even know how. Teens are still children and need a bedtime routine. I would argue this might even be more important now than when they were babies. This will help them long into adulthood and can really make a huge difference in their day. And if your athlete is traveling for competitions, having their sleep routine can help them fall asleep faster and sleep better in different surroundings.
A big part of their sleep routine is to kill electronics an hour before bed. This includes tvs, computers and phones. Put a charging station in the main family area for mobile devices (laptops, tablets, and even phones) and get them an alarm clock for bedrooms. This also eliminates staying up late because they’re worried they might miss out on something or they’re in contact with friends all night. Another option here is to have them wear blue-light blocking glasses. I like these ones ->https://amzn.to/3hFwcGW. (PS this is an affiliate link)
Create a good sleeping environment. Keep bedrooms dimly lit, cool, and relatively clutter-free. Using bedrooms only for sleeping also keeps gives them a calm, relaxing place, making it easier to associate that space with sleep and not anything else (especially something stressful like schoolwork.)
Look into ways to increase their melatonin production or talk to your daughter’s healthcare provider about small doses of melatonin before bed. If your child is regularly snacking late at night, consider snacks that are associated with better sleep. This includes foods like kiwi (notice a theme here? We love kiwis!), nuts like almonds or walnuts, a small bowl of cereal (preferably not loaded with sugar), or even a cup of chamomile tea and honey.
Finally, as a parent sometimes you have to step in and say no. This one may be the hardest because teens want to do everything (and yet nothing all at once right?) Ultimately setting boundaries on their time and energy is one of the best things you can do. This includes hanging out with friends, joining another activity or team or possibly even taking another advanced class. Teaching your kids how to appropriately manage their time and priotize the important things like sleep will help them well beyond their athletic career.
Not sure how much your athlete is sleeping? Consider picking up The Winning Season. It’s a printable planner that contains a sleep tracker, daily goal setting along with 10+ other pages to help female athletes get the most out of their season.